Along about the turn of the century, San Diego took unto itself a town mascot, a dog by the name of Bum. Bum was not as common as his name may seem to imply; he possessed political aplomb, social mobility, and a remarkably congenial press. To the populace, he became an allegorical figure symbolizing the romantic vagabond. The very personification of Victorian California, he was the happy wanderer who attracted attention wherever he roamed. Because of his good-natured personality, his inquiring mind, and his unfailing sense of cameraderie, Bum rapidly became special to the people of San Diego. His was a good life, based on the carefree traditions of the knights of the open road.
According to tradition, Bum was born in San Francisco on July 3, 1886, coming to San Diego six months later as a stowaway aboard the Pacific Coast Steam Ship Company’s steamer, Santa Rosa.1 He arrived amidst the vibrant activity of the great boom of 1886-1888. The town was bursting with dynamic personalities, and Bum might have been overlooked had it not been for the gallant efforts of a genuine man of letters, James Edward Friend.
James Edward Friend, an itinerant journalist, part time telegrapher, and would-be politician, took a fancy to Bum. “Captain” Friend, as he liked to be called, arrived in San Diego in November, 1886, just one month preceding Bum.2 And certainly it is no mean coincidence that the advent of Friend marks the beginning of the tale of Bum, fact and fantasy.
Bum and Friend were inseparable. Many of “Cap’s” biting editorials were woven around incidents from the dog’s rather volatile life, and, in this way, the writer was able to share his observations of the dog with the general public.
Friend’s use of Bum’s personal life as a literary device seems never to have caused Bum any immediate discomfiture. Quite the contrary, Captain Friend could not have been a better press agent. He created such a striking public image for Bum that it became very fashionable to bestow patronage upon the dog. For example, one restaurant in town displayed a sign in the front window which read, ” Bum eats here”. And Bum was certainly accommodating about the whole thing because, after all, to him, a friend was for sharing.
Towards the end of Bum’s career, Friend wrote a brief biographical sketch which appeared in The Weekly Drift. It reads in part as follows:3
Bum was born in San Francisco on the afternoon of July 3, 1886. . . In the spring and summer of our hero’s birth all untagged dogs were being run into the city pound, and one morning the mother of Bum was carted in. Sympathy being aroused she was allowed to remain until the eventful day that gave Bum to the world. The new arrivals numbered seven, and all but Bum was (sic) murdered in cold blood to avenge the law. The mother died with the rest, but Bum was adopted by one of the fire companies, and grew up to be what his name suggests. When four months old he developed a roving propensity, and finally in December of the year of his birth, he determined to see the world. He had no stuff in his pockets, but he got to San Diego all the same as a stowaway in the hold of the Santa Rosa. For several days he visited points of interest in the boom-coming town, and finally took up bed and board with a Chinese fisherman named Ah Wo Sue.
One day in August of the following year, while loafing in the yards of the Santa Fe Company, he got into a fight with a bulldog owned by Till A. Burnes, and both rolled under the wheels of a passing engine. The bulldog was killed outright, and Bum suffered the loss of his right forefoot, besides being cut open in the stomach so badly as to let his intestines drag on the ground. The Celestial came to the front, however, and nursed his friend back to health and life. Then Bum shook him and chose a life of gentlemanly leisure.
Bum is welcomed in the finest society, and a place in the best chop house is always ready for him. Like all other high-toned, well-dressed dead beats, he never accepted “the worst of it”. No matter how hungry he may be, a “hand-out” for common dogs will grievously insult him. . . Like his brother on two legs and stand-off clothes, he keeps the world in doubt as to “the power behind the throne”, and for fear of losing his patronage socially and financially—doubtful as both may be—he is received everywhere with a hearty handshake and dismissed with a “come again” smile.
At a public meeting he is called on to be chairman, simple (sic) because he has succeeded in fooling the smarter men with his “golden silence”; and in this way he goes on until public ignorance of his true worth hands him high and dry an eminence so far above his capacity that his accredited light is seen no more forever.
Our pictured Bum has many peculiarities and characteristics. Let a band he heard in the distance; he will go to it as fast as his three legs will carry him along. He is present at all street gatherings and remains as long as the interest lasts. When the Salvation Army parade was a new thing he made one of the crowd, but when it became a “chestnut” he shook it like a hot potato. Some evil minded people say this showed good judgment if not downright good sense. Funerals were atone time his especial favorites, but as his own last picnic draws near he seems to have formed an aversion for such parades. . . He toils not, neither doth he spin, and yet his clothes are always of the best and his stomach well filled. . . He may not have as much sense as other dogs falling under his contempt, but he don’t (sic) let anybody know it. Were he a man and a politician however soundly the world might abuse this patronizing style that makes him great he would go to congress by the overwhelming vote of his enemies. . .
About four years ago I (Friend) was at the Santa Fe depot and noticed “Bum” cavorting around as if he was (sic) “going somewhere”. When the train came up and the “gentlemanly porter” had placed his carpet- covered steps onto the platform, Mr. “Bum” was the first passenger to attempt the climb. The porter politely restrained him and I thought that had settled it; but when the cars began to move away I heard the old dog’s well known music. He was lying full length in front of the door, on the rear platform of the rear palace car; thumping the wood with his glad tail, his big red tongue hanging from a wide opened mouth and his sonorous voice telling everybody plainly that he was off for the upper country. Being an operator, I stepped into the telegraph office and calling up all towns on the line, including Los Angeles, sent the following message, asking the operators to copy it simultaneously: “Bum: San Diego’s town dog is on No. (sic). bound, the Lord knows where. Should he decide to honor your city with a visit, please extend him the courtesy and keys thereof; seeing that he has a good time and travels home on a pass”. The boys, beginning with Del Mar, gave my dispatch a happy O. K., and pledged their best in Bum’s behalf. I also sent a private dispatch to Dick Clover, then on the Los Angeles Herald, but formerly a reporter in San Diego. Dick met the train in a hack, received his old friend, who had gone straight through, and the two rode in style up the town. Bum saw the city in a couple of days and came home.
In 1891, Friend applied to the city council for a life dog tag for Bum, “on the grounds that he did more to advertise the city and county than most of the newspapers.” 4 The action was rushed through and placed in the minutes in proper form. Bum’s picture was placed on the dog license. A wood block was used to embellish the “Dog Tax Receipt” of 1891, an example of which was found by June Reading in the Thomas Whaley Papers, Whaley House Historical Museum in Old Town .
About eleven o’clock, on the morning of May 22, 1894, Bum wandered behind George Magwood’s store. Mr. Magwood was putting a halter on a rather nervous horse. Bum got too close, and was kicked. His left hind leg was broken. Mr. Magwood immediately called Dr. Wright, a nearby veterinarian, who refused to respond. A Dr. Gillen was not available, and so, in desperation, Captain Friend was summoned. He immediately contacted Dr. Stone, who then took charge of the dog, setting the broken leg. Dr. Stone described the injury as a compound comminuted fracture of the femur at the lower third. Bum was very patient. The newspaper account stated: 5
Dr. Stone, the attending physician, will today take off the bandages and redress the fractured leg. He says Bum will be out again in about eight weeks. On account of the dog’s age the process of healing will be rather slow. Bum will be “at home” to his friends after 2 o’clock today at Magwood’s.
By this time, Bum had become so important to the city that a picture was taken, showing several people attending the dog behind George Magwood’s store. In the photograph, Bum seems to have all four legs, but this is a photographic illusion. This picture was taken several years after Bum lost part of his left frontpaw under a train. James Friend wrote as follows:6
The old fellow is now about on his last three legs. In fact he never has been entirely himself since two years ago when he was attended by Dr. Stone and Dr. Creppin, on account of a broken limb. Magwood has always been “Bum’s” friend; the sort of a friend that, no matter what had put him into the gutter, would never have let him go to the poor house; and so when the dog got all broke up, Magwood came to the front, fixed up a comfortable room for him, and hired me as a professional nurse, paying me with the same kindness as he did the other.
Why was Bum so popular? Perhaps it was because no matter who you were or what you were doing, Bum was interested. He had an insatiable curiosity about life, about soldiers and ships, about newsboys, Santa Fe trains, and Republican rallies. And Friend, who seems to have been identified with the dog, took the trouble to describe all this to the people of San Diego. 7 Friend and Bum were inseparable; their two personalities were really one.
Having become crippled with rheumatism, Bum was retired to the County Hospital, by order of the Board of Supervisors, where he died in November, 1898, loved and remembered by anentirecommunity.8James Friend had prophetically written: 9
When Bum dies and I should “not be at home,” his obituary is ready written. The newsboys will see that both of us have decent funerals and the band will be present.
Even in death one followed the other almost immediately. Captain James Edward Friend died in March, 1898, a few months before Bum’s death, ending the partnership but not the myth.
1. Members of the Seventh Grade, Sherman Heights School, Our Christmas Gift of 1886: “Bum” San Diego: The San Diego Printing Co., 1891), passim. Subsequently cited as Sherman Heights School, “Bum.” ” City and Vicinity,” The San Diego Union, December 21, 1886.
2. Herbert Charles Hensley, ” The Memoirs of Herbert C. Hensley: The History of San Diego, City, County, and Region, through the Memoirs, Anecdotes and Recollections of the Author, Compiled and Edited by Him over a Period of Three Years, 1949-1952″ (deposited in the archives of the San Diego Historical Society, October 6, 1952, Junipero Serra Museum, San Diego, California), II, 172, (typewritten). Subsequently cited as Hensley.
3. James Edward Friend, “Bum,” The Weekly Drift, (San Diego, California), n.d., (about 1895) (deposited in the archives of the San Diego Historical Society, Junipero Serra Museum, San Diego, California), 18-20. Subsequently cited as Friend, “Bum,” The Weekly Drift.
5. “Patient Old Fellow,” The San Diego Union, May 23, 1894.
6. Friend, “Bum,” The Weekly Drift.
7. James Edward Friend, One Thousand Liars: A Political Romance (National City, California:
8. Press of The Record Publishing Co., 1893), 15-16. Hensley, 172.
WILLIAM EDWARD EVANS, a native of Southern California, is a graduate of San Diego State, from which he received his M.A. in 1961. He is a member of the faculty at Sweetwater High School in National City. His work has been published in the California Historical Society Quarterly and the Peabody Journal of Education. He is a member of the San Diego History Center, which welcomes him to its roster of contributors to the Journal of San Diego History.